Grad student composer wins commission to create new piece for Other Minds Festival

Brian Baumbusch is currently in his third year pursuing a doctor of musical arts degree in composition at UC Santa Cruz, where he also directs the Balinese gamelan ensemble.
Brian Baumbusch, (third from right), performing with his Lightbulb Ensemble at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.

UC Santa Cruz grad student Brian Baumbusch has received a grant from the Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation to create a new composition that will be performed at the acclaimed Other Minds Festival of contemporary music in 2018.

The foundation has awarded six $50,000 grants this year to support the creation and production of new music by “today’s most influential” California composers.

Six Bay Area nonprofit arts organizations will receive a $50,000 grant that will be used for a commissioning fee of $12,500 or more to each composer, with the rest of the funds going to the arts presenters for expenses related to the creation and premiere of the pieces.

All of the new music works will have their world premiere public performances in the San Francisco Bay Area over the next two years.

Baumbusch will create a new piece titled The Pressure that will be a concert-length multimedia work based on themes of early German expressionism that accompanied the rise of fascism.

The scores will be performed by a mixed ensemble including The Friction String Quartet and The Lightbulb Ensemble, a group of 12 percussionists that performs on a set of instruments that Baumbusch designed and built, and that were inspired by Indonesian gamelan instruments.

“The piece that I plan to write for the commission will be a continuation of a collaboration that I started with a South African video artist named Chris Bisset, as well as my brother Paul who is a poet/playwright,” said Baumbusch. 

“We performed a work that we all collaborated on together this past fall at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, along with a number of my students from UC Santa Cruz and other musicians who I collaborate with in the Lightbulb Ensemble. That piece, called ‘Hamsa’ was inspired by the five pillars of Islam, in which my brother wrote five ‘tales’ based on each of the pillars, and I wrote an 80-minute score that accompanied a whispered-narration of the tales.”

Baumbusch said his new work will feature a performance by the Lightbulb Ensemble, set to a silent film created by Bisset and based on a storyline by his brother.

“I plan to draw inspiration from early minimalist opera and film collaboration while exploring contemporary social issues,” he explained. “Whereas Hamsa explored the rich architectural and aesthetic traditions of Islam as a meditation on contemporary religion, The Pressure will explore the fascination with the uncanny through a political lens, focusing especially on the German expressionism of the Weimar Republic and the silent ‘horror’ films that accompanied the rise of fascism.”

This marks the second time that Baumbusch has received a commission grant from the Gerbode Foundation.

“I was involved in a project that was awarded the same grant in 2014,” Baumbusch noted. “In that project, the lead composer was Wayne Vitale, and I was a co-composer. We developed an hour-long suite of works to be performed on the instruments that I built by the Lightbulb Ensemble, which was the group that I formed to play on these instruments in 2013.”

“We premiered this work at the Yerba Buena center in San Francisco,” he added. “We went on to record these works as an album, which was just released on New World Records, along with a piece called ‘Ellipses’ that I composed for some of my gamelan students at UC Santa Cruz, which was recorded on campus in 2015.”

Baumbusch is currently in his third year pursuing a doctor of musical arts degree in composition at UC Santa Cruz, where he also directs the Balinese gamelan ensemble. He has also been on the faculty at Santa Clara University for the past year, directing a gamelan ensemble there and teaching several other music courses.